Video captured aboard a charter bus in New Mexico last week shows a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agent asking passengers if they're American citizens.
On its way from El Paso to Los Angeles, the bus stopped at a checkpoint near Deming, New Mexico, roughly 70 miles from the Mexican border. The video, which was then posted to Facebook, shows a CBP agent asking passengers, "You a citizen?" and checking their documentation.
The agent's actions are challenged by the woman taking the video, Los Angeles teacher Yolanda Varela Gonzalez. "I understand you're not allowed to ask for that within 100 miles of the border," she says. The officer claims he's not doing anything wrong, but the woman disagrees. "You're not supposed to be on here. You know you guys terrorizing people," she says.
"We're not even within 100 miles of the border. This is bullshit. This is what you guys do to everybody," Gonzalez continues. "Living in Nazi Germany where you need to show your I.D. within the states, this is bullshit."
It's unclear whether Gonzalez was saying the bus was more or less than 100 miles away from Mexico, but since the incident occurred roughly 70 miles from the border, the agent's actions were legal. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1946 allows immigration agents to "to board and search for aliens any vessel within the territorial waters of the United States and any railway car, aircraft, conveyance, or vehicle." Originally, agents could only conduct such searches within 25 miles of any "external boundary of the United States," but a 1953 Department of Justice rule expanded the distance to 100 miles. The Supreme Court has upheld immigration agents' extra authority in areas near the border. As far as the law is concerned, your Fourth Amendment rights essentially evaporate when you come close to a national frontier.
But just because it's legal doesn't make it proper, says American Civil Liberties Union New Mexico Communications Director Micah McCoy. "We believe people's rights don't just disappeared because they are by an international border," McCoy tells KOAT.
Gonzalez agrees, telling KOAT that people shouldn't have to live in fear of immigration agents. "It really boils down to how people are being treated regardless of how many miles it is, the fact that people are living in fear," she says. "And yes, it's racial profiling, and that is just a violation, any sort of racial profiling is a violation of human rights and civil rights."